Duterte serious about ending PH-U.S. joint exercises

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte is standing his ground: the joint war games of the Philippines and the U.S. next week will be the last, not only this year, but throughout his six-year term.

In a speech after returning from his trip to Vietnam early Friday, the President lamented the lack of military hardware transfer from the U.S. to the Philippines.

"They asked for a joint maneuvers, operations and yet there is no capability between the weapons and the armaments they use and even in the communications… They don't allow us to buy the missiles. So what would be the point?" Duterte said.

The pronouncement took the Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana by surprise.

"Oo, tuloy iyong mga war games [Yes, the war games continue]," he said on Wednesday.

In a statement on Thursday, the Department of National Defense said Lorenzana has yet to seek clarification from the President.

"Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana will discuss this with the President to seek more clarification and guidance. As stated earlier, all agreements and treaties with the U.S. are still in effect."

Lorenzana is currently in Honolulu, Hawaii to join other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) defense ministers in an annual gathering with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

It is still unclear whether Carter or U.S. Pacific Command chief Harry Harris will raise the issue on the President's order.

The conduct of joint drills is based on Article 2 of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. The Mutual Defense Board meets every year to plan out these activities, including the conduct of joint military exercises.

"In order more effectively to achieve the objective of this Treaty, the Parties separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack" the treaty says.

It states both countries will have to develop their capacity to help each other in resisting any armed attack in the Pacific.

"Like any skilled development, we need to practice, and these practice takes the form of the war games," Retired Gen. Ed Oban, Former Visiting Forces Agreement Commission Executive Director, said.

When the treaty was signed communism and Soviet expansionism were the primary regional security concerns. Then the Philippines decided to close down U.S. bases in 1991. To warm up strained relations, the two allies decided to revive the wargames by the late 90s.

After the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, "Balikatan" [Shoulder-to-Shoulder] exercises were held in Mindanao with the Philippines becoming the second-front on the global war on terror.

Until recently, the war games focused training on maritime security, and wet seen as a direct response to China's growing aggressiveness over South China sea.

The President wants a stop to these war games in a bid to appease China, but the defense treaties with the U.S. will remain.

Oban offers an alternative to the war games — continue holding joint drills but without China in the picture.

The exercises will instead focus on how to address non-traditional security threats such transnational crimes, including trafficking of people and drugs.

"These are not war games. These are non-confrontational. Rather, these are collaborative engagements… The more important thing here is we keep coordinating, we keep communicating, we keep concept of operations rolling," Oban explained.

The proposal not only grants the President's wishes - other security and law enforcement agencies such as the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency also get to benefit from the exercises.

"It's a win-win solution," Oban said.